Pressure Cooker Square

The nationalist pressure cooker is a dud

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MANY OF US will remember the night Alex Salmond lost his Westminster seat of Gordon in 2017. It was a ‘were you up for Portillo?’ moment, twenty years after that event, again in the wee small hours.

I admit to having opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate, even at about 4.00am. Salmond’s valedictory speech at the count ended with a flourish from the last line of one of the versions of the song ‘Bonnie Dundee’:

We’ll awa’ tae the hills, tae the lea, tae the rocks 

E’er I own a usurper, I’ll couch wi’ the fox! 

So tremble, false Whigs, in the midst o’ your glee, 

For ye’ve naw seen the last o’ my bonnets and me! 

Now, after failing to gain a single seat at Holyrood for his Alba party, Alex Salmond tries to ensure that he keeps the promise he made: his bonnets and he remain on display. Banished, electorally at least, from representative institutions in the UK, he has launched a campaign to win international support for Alba and Scottish secession. This involved him last month in opening Alba’s ‘international chapter’ and holding an ‘online rally’ with members of ‘Germans for Yes’ and ‘Netherlands for Scottish Independence’. These are rag, tag and bobtail outfits, much like Alba itself. Salmond is reduced to this kind of diversion because he knows very well that no reputable foreign government would meddle in the internal affairs of another country.  The EU Commission, for its part, made it clear in 2014 it would not do that.

‘International pressure is going to be part of the campaign that’s going to force Westminster to grant Scotland the right, that any nation should have and must have, the right of self-determination’, announced Salmond. This is the same Salmond who complained loudly about the Earl and Countess of Strathearn recently having the temerity to meet Gordon Brown in private.

Salmond isn’t alone in his aspiration to enlist foreign levies to his cause. There are other nationalist plans afoot to mobilise international opinion behind a campaign for a separate Scotland. A month ago, a new pressure group, ‘Europe for Scotland’, produced a petition to the EU Commission and to the heads of EU governments: ‘we call on you to ensure that the EU clearly signals a path for Scotland to become a member in advance of [my emphasis] any independence referendum’. Further, ‘because Scotland has already long been part of the EU, should it become legally and democratically independent it need not apply as a “new” accession candidate. Instead, the EU and its member states should make a unilateral and open offer of membership’ to Scotland. Unless I am much mistaken, this phraseology bears the distinctive imprint of the SNP, and probably of Alyn Smith, MEP and now MP.

This was the precisely the course that the EU Commission refused to consider in 2014, but ‘Europe for Scotland’ wants it to make an exception for Scotland. Its organiser, Anthony Barnett – ‘a writer and campaigner’ – tells us that his group is not pro-secession, but the tenor of his online programme makes it clear that it is. Then there are the signatories, including usual separatist suspects such as Lesley Riddoch, Elaine C. Smith, Gerry Hassan, Pat Kane, Billy Kay, Val McDermid, George Monbiot, as well as overseas luvvies such as Alan Cumming and Brian Cox. No surprises there.

I was, however, shocked to see on the list the name of a friend and former colleague who is now resident outside both the UK and the EU, and who has, to my knowledge, little acquaintance with Scotland. He is, however (like me), a distraught Remainer. I contacted him to ask how he had been approached about this attempt to undermine the UK, and he told me that he had been ‘approached by a colleague’ who had once previously asked him to sign a petition on a matter with which he was in sympathy. He says, ‘I do not think that Scottish separatism is realistic’, yet he has signed a petition giving aid and comfort to those who support it. How many of the other 200 signatories worldwide were similarly importuned and have similarly regarded it as an allegedly well-meaning and harmless anti-Brexit gesture? That, I assume, is Mr Barnett’s motive for launching his initiative.

Mr Barnett seems unaware that, on the one hand, there is not a majority for separatism in Scotland, and, on the other, Scotland is not qualified to join the EU. Yes, Scotland was fully aligned with EU regulations when the UK remained an EU member state. But, on crucial requirements of the Copenhagen criteria of 1993, as modified in 1995, Scotland fails. Applicants to the EU are required to have their own currency and central bank which supports it. Scottish separatists claim confidently that they will have a central bank, but it would not be one in any meaningful sense. How would Scotland fund a central bank that would support its currency, including serving as a lender of last resort? I have seen no SNP attempt to answer that question.

As for the currency, it may, or may not, mean retaining the pound as the currency of a separate Scotland. The Growth Commission, which was the last official SNP word on this issue, reckoned that iScotland would retain the pound for several years. That would disqualify it from EU membership since the EU does not permit members to use a third country’s currency and requires that they have their own currency and that they control their own monetary policy. Using the pound would mean that the Bank of England controlled Scottish monetary policy. Setting up a new currency would cause headaches that have been well-rehearsed, not least by Sam Taylor of These Islands. I have yet to see a reputable economist explain how this could be done easily and/or painlessly. This is before we mention Scotland’s huge deficit as a stumbling block to EU membership. Separatists prefer to claim that Scotland does not have a deficit, which gives a clear idea of their comprehension of the economic and financial issues facing their prospective ‘independent’ state.

The Anthony Barnett initiative is reminiscent of another petition, organised a few years ago by the Green MSP, Ross Greer, which gained the support of some Green and other councillors across the EU for Scotland becoming a separate state and a member of the EU. It is all of a piece with the SNP’s ‘leave a light on’ campaign. But none of these things amounts to anything concrete. I can see that the pro-separation lobby is trying to build up a head of steam, but which government – especially any with a secessionist group in its own country – would give the time of day to this attempt at unofficial pressure?

Scottish separatists become irate when anyone elsewhere in the UK makes any kind of intervention in the constitutional question. But they actively seek the support and validation of people anywhere in the world, in the hope that a heavy weight of pressure will make the Westminster government succumb to demands for a referendum. This does not suggest much confidence in SNP circles that support for their cause within Scotland is, or is likely to be, sufficient for victory.

I seem to remember Alex Salmond telling David Cameron in 2014 to ‘butt out of Scotland’. Well, I have a message for Europeans who consort with Alex Salmond, and for Anthony Barnett and his crowd: ‘Butt out of Scotland’ and desist from trying to break up the UK.

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Photo of pressure cooker by Luis from Adobe Stock.

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